Small Business Systems

What is Systems Thinking?

The term “systems thinking” was coined by Barry Richmond in 1987. According to Richmond, “Systems thinking is the art and science of making reliable inferences about behavior by developing an increasingly deep understanding of underlying structure.” In The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, author Peter Senge states, “Systems thinking [is] a way of thinking about, and a language for describing and understanding, the forces and interrelationships that shape the behavior of systems. This discipline helps us to see how to change systems more effectively, and to act more in tune with the natural processes of the natural and economic world.

In order to get a better understanding of what these two experts are telling us, let’s go back to the basics. What is a system? A system is a group of things that are interconnected and demonstrate their own behavior pattern over time. Systems are usually the cause of their own behavior. Even when outside forces act on a system, it reacts in a way that is consistent with the character of the system. If the same outside forces were to act on a different system, there would likely be a different outcome.

Systems thinking helps us look at the world in a new way because it encourages us to look at events and patterns by focusing on the connection and relationship between a system’s parts, instead of only looking at the individual parts in isolation. Systems thinking leads us away from trying to come up with a quick fix to a problem, which we too often do, in favor of considering the long-term consequences our actions may cause. It supports a deeper level of understanding than we typically take the time to seek.

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